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Cardinals — on the basketball court?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2017 – 1:59 pm

Late in the season, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen installed one of those mini-basketball hoops above one of their lockers. Every once in a while, after practice, somebody (or somebodies) would take a few shots. There’s no question that over the years, plenty of players have come through that space thinking they were quite the basketball players.

Anquan Boldin could play. Kurt Warner could really play (and still does, hosting invite-only pickup games at his house in Scottsdale). Josh McCown could really play.

With the NBA all-star game today, it’s a good time to discuss who might make a solid unit for the hardwood. I’ve had the chance to talk to a handful of players about their basketball backgrounds. (I have not talked to everyone, and I am sure I will have inevitably missed some serious baller here. I ask, preemptively, for forgiveness.)

You’ve got to start with Darren Fells. The guy played pro basketball, after all. Larry Fitzgerald still likes to trash-talk Fells, and at one point there was a challenge of a one-on-one game, but I’m guessing Fitz wouldn’t like how that would turn out. Still, I’ve seen Fitz enough times in charity games that he probably could be in the starting lineup.

Our point guard would be Tyrann Mathieu, who might not quite be the same player as he was prior to a pair of ACL injuries, although I’m guessing he’d say different. (That video doesn’t exactly show the Badger against the best defense.) Calais Campbell, who at 6-foot-8 did some damage inside in high school, can be our center. And you don’t want to forget David Johnson (15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior in high school, and second-team all-state), who noted on Twitter he’s got a 41.5-inch vertical.

Off the bench? Kareem Martin, who played football at North Carolina, had a chance to walk on to the Tar Heels basketball team and maybe be the next Julius Peppers. Martin decided to concentrate on football, but you’ve got to have some game to be considered for UNC hoops. Some Earl Watford (Earl had some good stories about being the muscle on the court for his high school team), and a little A.Q. Shipley (A.Q., while shooting on that mini-hoop, assured me that back in the day, he was quite nimble on the court). Close it out with Tony Jefferson, who plays pretend basketball in the locker room with the trash cans more than any player ever and loves his Suns. (Yes, Jefferson was cut as a sophomore in high school, but noted that he had 16 points and five steals in his final lower-level high school appearance, so there’s that.)

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Broncos — and preseason — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2016 – 11:32 pm

It’s late, it’s the fourth preseason game, and the reality is not much can be said until final cuts are made. So this aftermath will be short and sweet. There were some “stars” Thursday night — Elijhaa Penny ran the ball really well — but then you hear Bruce Arians talking about Stepfan Taylor being one of the core guys on special teams and you remember that many of these roster spots have already been determined, the process of seeing all these guys over offseason workouts and an entire training camp and three previous games.

(Still, if a guy like Penny isn’t picked up on waivers, I can’t see how he wouldn’t be on the practice squad.)

I tweeted late in the game that if I had a do-over on my guess at the 53, it’d be that Lamar Louis would make the team. He’s impressed, and more importantly, Arians keeps talking him up. We’ll see. Special teams is the key to these final couple of spots, Arians stressed, and Louis is playing well in that area.

— Special teams will be impacted with the short-term loss of linebacker Kareem Martin. Martin hurt his MCL and Arians said they are hoping he’s only out two or three weeks. You have to wonder, if fellow linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo hadn’t gotten hurt earlier (it was announced as a right knee; Arians said after it was a hamstring) and was still playing if Martin even would have been on the field. Bad luck all around.

— In terms of outside linebacker depth, if Martin is down, Arians said Alani Fua can play outside as well as inside. And if anyone was unsure if Fua was going to be on the team, there’s your answer.

— Earl Watford had never played left tackle in a game. Now he has. Could the Cardinals go with just three backup OL right now — center Evan Boehm, perhaps guard Cole Toner and Watford, who can play every position? Watford can play all five positions and will be the sixth offensive lineman.

— The Cardinals have run the ball very, very well all preseason. Bodes well.

— Robert Nkemdiche played well, in different spots, and was in on a sack late.

— Not a great night for the top cornerbacks. Justin Bethel sat out because of his foot. Brandon Williams didn’t have one of his better games, but it was better than Cariel Brooks, who was in position to be the fourth cornerback and did not play well at all.

— Nice pick-6 by ILB Gabe Martin late in the game, but I’m not sure it was enough to make the team. Would they keep Martin over veteran Chris Clemons?

— I don’t expect cuts to be announced before the weekend, even though Arians was talking about hard decisions being made Friday.

— Finally, a 59-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro, which would have been the second-longest in team history had it been in the regular season (Jay Feely booted the 61-yarder against Buffalo in 2012). Will Cat Man have chances like that in the regular season?

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Cardinals to sign Freeney

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2015 – 11:53 am

Nothing official yet — until the ink is on the contract, it rarely is — but it looks like the Cardinals will be signing veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney to a one-year contract to bolster the pass rush. Given the history both Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have with Freeney (they coached him in Indianapolis) it fits, and after Alex Okafor hurt his calf Sunday and figures to miss time, they need more help out there to go with LaMarr Woodley, Kareem Martin and rookies Markus Golden and Shaq Riddick.

(UPDATE: It’s official now.)

Freeney had 3.5 sacks last season for San Diego before he was released in the spring. He was generally regarded as a player who consistently got pressure on the quarterback in a limited pass rushing role. How quickly he can add to the Cardinals remains to be seen, since he didn’t have an offseason with a team or a training camp. But it is reportedly another of GM Steve Keim’s minimum-salary deals with incentives, so the upside remains greater than the downside, which is how this team has been built.

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Depth spills on two fields (and other OTA notes)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2015 – 10:52 am

The Cardinals opened the final week of OTAs Monday (the mandatory minicamp is next week, and then the players are off until training camp.) Nothing eventful, although the rising temperatures played into some mistakes late, coach Bruce Arians said. Some tidbits from the day:

— The depth on the front seven — or maybe the uncertainty — has been on display because of the second practice field. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, defensive end Ed Stinson and newly crowned linebacker Kareem Martin are all taking reps on the second field even though all figure to be a part of the rotation.

“I wants those guys to get more reps too,” Arians said of having them on Field Two. “But that is the depth we have. Those positions right now, it’s a dogfight.”

— The Cardinals were working on the no-huddle a lot Monday, and Arians said he thinks the offense will use it more often this season. (More on the subject soon in Kyle Odegard’s notebook on the homepage.) At this point, with Carson Palmer still not taking part in 11-on-11, he can’t work in that facet of the no-huddle.

— Arians was asked about Larry Foote’s timetable if he wanted to give up coaching and try to play again. Arians said Foote would have to make a decision by the time training camp were to begin. Foote said the other day he was only thinking about coaching at this point.

— RB Kerwynn Williams is out right now with a hamstring issue, joining the same rookies who have been out: OLB Zack Wagenmann (foot) OLB Shaq Riddick (hamstring) ILB Alani Fua (foot). Riddick tried last week one day to give it a go but ended up sitting out again. Arians said there is no question the fifth-round pick is falling behind. “You can’t make any progress in the training room,” Arians said.

— Arians clarified his comment that first-round pick D.J. Humphries was a little immature at this point. “You’d like to see steady improvement,” Arians said. “He’s only 20, 21 years old. He’s a college kid still and this is a professional league. But he’s figuring it out fast.”

— A couple of quality Arians quips today. On whether he can wide receiver John Brown has added some muscle. “I don’t know. He’s still little.” And when he was asked how much rookie running back David Johnson might take off the plate of Andre Ellington, Arians said “Dave is not in the picure yet,” adding, “he ain’t getting s*** yet.”

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OTAs open with a determined Palmer, and other notes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2015 – 11:07 am

The Cardinals had the first of their 10 organized team activities of the offseason this morning. Coach Bruce Arians called it crisp and noted the work got done quickly enough that the team ended early. Quarterback Carson Palmer looked good in limited work — more on Palmer’s drive to get back on the field in a bit when I have a story on the homepage — and Arians said there is a chance that Palmer could be back for even more reps (regular reps?) by the time the Cards reach their minicamp in mid-June. I’ll admit, when they said that once upon a time I was thinking it was much too optimistic, but clearly, Palmer has a good chance to prove me wrong.

Some other quick notes/thoughts from the first OTA:

— The draft class is doing work on Field 2 during 11-on-11 (except for OLB Shaq Riddick, who tweaked his hamstring last week.) D.J. Humphries is the third-string left tackle for now, a long way from usurping Bobby Massie. Arians said the rookies have a lot of work to do to get on Field 1, although it could happen as we go. (This is the first of the draft classes from Keim/Arians that I can remember all the draftees on Field 2. Usually someone is working on the main field.)

— Arians praised everyone’s conditioning but he particularly noted the good shape of guard Jonathan Cooper and wide receiver Michael Floyd.

— Speaking of Cooper, Arians was asked if Cooper was better at knowing when to “gut it out” and play. Arians said it’s tough to gut it out when you are simply injured as Cooper had been, including his broken leg. “You can’t gut out broken bones, unless you’re Jack Youngblood,” Arians said. “Then the coach gets sued these days. Back then, it was cool.”

— As I’ve noted before, Matt Shaughnessy has moved to defensive end in the 3-4, which Arians called his more natural spot. He’s flipped with Kareem Martin, who is at linebacker now.

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Palmer on field as Phase 2 begins

Posted by Darren Urban on May 4, 2015 – 11:33 am

The caveats: In Phase 2 of the offseason program, there is no defense and there are no helmets. The work is only one hour. Offensive and defensive players are working on separate fields. But in terms of good signs, Carson Palmer taking snaps as the first-unit quarterback — after tearing his ACL in November — has to be considered as one. Palmer was out there and, aside from the knee brace, didn’t look any different than last offseason as he threw passes. (We’ll have more in a homepage story later today.) This doesn’t mean Palmer is ready to play in a game, or even that he’ll be able to do a lot during OTAs or minicamp. We’ll see on all that. But it definitely underscores the optimism Palmer has for training camp.

A couple of other notes from this still-voluntary phase:

— The rookies are not here yet. They arrive Thursday afternoon with rookie minicamp starting Friday.

— The first-unit offensive line looks as expected right now: From left tackle to right tackle, it was Jared Veldheer, Mike Iupati, Ted Larsen, Jonathan Cooper, Bobby Massie.

— Not only is Kareem Martin getting work at outside linebacker, but it looks like Matt Shaughnessy working as a 3-4 defensive end after playing linebacker in 3-4 alignments previously.

— First-unit safeties on this first day were Deone Bucannon and Rashad Johnson.

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Sam Acho heads to Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2015 – 11:20 am

It was becoming pretty clear the Cardinals were going to move on from linebacker Sam Acho once he hit free agency, but that became official Wednesday when Acho signed a one-year contract with the Bears. Acho flashed as a rookie in 2011 with seven sacks, although never quite found that pass-rush level again. His 2013 was cut way short after he broke his leg. Last season he had 46 tackles and one sack — in the finale — in a reserve role.

There is little question about Acho the human being, however. A better person you won’t find. Any interaction with a fan — and he made sure to do that plenty — led to that fan being his fan. It was nearly impossible to do otherwise. I happened to talk with him a bit at a Suns’ game last month and at the time — right after the initial binge of free agency — Acho said he was probably going to lay low for a bit. At that point, it seemed like his time as a Cardinal had passed, unless he might return post-draft had the team not found a replacement. Now, the Cardinals need to work on building their outside linebacking corps, with the only ones under contract right now Lorenzo Alexander, Alex Okafor, Matt Shaughnessy and LaMarr Woodley. Kareem Martin will also get work there this offseason, but taking one with in the first round of the draft remains a strong possibility.

You can read the farewell statement Acho wrote right here.

Acho, meanwhile, will leave a lot of happy memories with fans in Arizona, like this little girl after a Flagstaff training camp practice in 2012.


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The tao of Arians: “Dude, you got a cup”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 25, 2015 – 8:39 am

Bruce Arians talked for an hour today on a lot of subjects at the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL spring meetings. We’ll have a lot of stories and video on the various topics today and in the coming days. Among the things Arians touched on:

— The Cardinals would still like to bring back Lyle Sendlein to compete for the center position;

— Logan Thomas will get a ton of reps in the offseason and could even get some “field one” work (the Cards have players working on two fields) depending on the health of Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton;

— There was nothing to say on Adrian Peterson (“Are you trying to get me fined?” he said);

— The Cardinals will look at Kareem Martin at outside linebacker. Arians thinks Martin has the body-type of Aldon Smith.

— He wants DE Calais Campbell to be more consistent, saying “he disappears too much.”

There was much more. But the line of the day came when Arians was talking about the reluctance of General Manager Steve Keim to accept his award for Executive of the Year from the Sporting News the other day in front of the other GMs and coaches. The trophy itself was a big glass vase-looking thing.

“You check your ego at the door, because everything is for the Cardinals,” Arians said. “We’ve both been fortunate enough to get some accolades. You can’t take them. The entire room got you there. Don’t think you’re special. We both laughed, he was embarrassed as hell the other day to get his. I said, ‘Dude, you got a cup. We can drink out of that.”


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Cards add A.Q. Shipley, Cory Redding

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2015 – 4:21 pm

The Cardinals added two more free agents Wednesday, bringing in a pair of ex-Colts: center/guard A.Q. Shipley and defensive end Cory Redding. Both are Bruce Arians specials; He coached both when he was in Indianapolis. Shipley has been with Arians three times now (he started in Pittsburgh when Arians was there) while Redding said he came to lean on Arians when Colts head coach Chuck Pagano got sick in 2012.

Both are the kind of depth signings GM Steve Keim has begun to master. Redding — below, signing his deal — will be great in the locker room and still can play, even though he contemplated retirement after the 2014 season. He’ll be perfect to mentor guys like Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson (as will fellow signee Corey Peters.)

Shipley fits into the mix on the interior of the offensive line. The numbers are starting to grow there, however, and it’s getting crowded for the current bunch even with a 90-man roster. Paul Fanaika is leaving (reportedly is going to sign with the Chiefs) but with Shipley and Iupati coming in, adding in with Lyle Sendlein, Ted Larsen, Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford, it’s a logjam. Sendlein’s $4 million-plus salary cap hit sticks out right now. We’ll see how it plays out, and who might be able to find their way onto the revamped offensive line.

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Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.

 

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